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Where Are We Going? Let's Get to the Facts
Posted Thursday, August 6, 2009

My hope is that somehow we will pause long enough to permit balanced, open and factual discussion about issues like climate change, health care and taxes before we lock ourselves into positions that define the future of the American landscape.

Story By Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong

So this doesn't come across as a political statement, let me start with a bit of a disclaimer. Although I'm registered as a Republican, I disagree with that party as much as I agree with it. In fact, I find myself agreeing with the Democratic Party as much as with the Republican Party.

What I have become is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I'm in the American Party.

That said, as an American, I reserve the right to agree or question those actions that, if taken, impact this great nation in ways that will significantly shape our future -- and the future of my three grandbabies.

We have some really important national decisions ahead of us. These are challenges looking for solutions that will dramatically impact every citizen in the United States and then some. It's past time to address those challenges and make some tough decisions. I am an advocate of taking action -- moving forward.

So, where is this going? Simply put, I worry that rushing to decisions without full vetting of the relevant data is not good for this nation -- especially when those decisions will shape our future not for years, but decades.

To be fair, there are times when it is important to act quickly -- and without a full set of relevant data. Sept. 11, 2001, strikes me as a time when we had to make decisions about national security without delay -- and we did. As we now know, some of those decisions were not all correct. But it was important to reassure our citizens -- and the rest of the world -- that something was being done to better ensure their safety.

We just encountered another example of a time when we needed a pretty quick set of decisions. We had a new administration take office in January that took some pretty immediate action to try to stop a sinkhole from swallowing our economy. Its actions were not all correct as we are finding out, but it's hard to fault the fact that something had to be done -- quickly.

But, as a nation, we have pressing decisions that are on the radar scope. Those decisions are either deal breakers or deal makers for our future. Getting those decisions right will define our position in the world and will define the quality of living for those grandbabies I mentioned earlier. We don't have to rush to make those decisions like we did for Sept. 11 or the panic our economy was causing all of us earlier this year.

Let's start with a hard one. I don't know what I think of climate change. Surely man has some impact on the climate by introducing manmade chemicals into the atmosphere. But for every climate change scientist who believes our presence is destroying the earth's atmosphere, there's an equally credible scientist who will say what man is doing is insignificant compared to the natural cycle of our earth's activity.

If we guess wrong in one direction (ignore the clamor predicting dire results from climate change), we could leave our grandchildren a planet in great peril. If we guess wrong in the other direction (drive the cost of the energy that runs our country to uneconomical heights and drive jobs overseas), we could leave our grandchildren with without the quality of living we enjoy now.

How about another tough one? Anybody not want good health care? Of course, we all want that for everybody. Anybody feel comfortable with the process we're using to determine how to best construct a logical, effective, efficient health care system? It must be hard to get the facts on the cost and the benefits of the proposals that are on the table since the facts that we are currently presented are all over the place.

Like climate change, the decision about fixing our health care system shouldn't be based on who's the loudest or who's on TV talk shows the most. We should try to provide health insurance and better health care to as many Americans as we can. But I'm the first to admit I don't have a clue how to best do that given the discussion I hear from both political parties.

It's a bad idea to saddle our grandchildren with an undefined debt and a program with undefined benefits. But we have way too many Americans without adequate health care. It is time to fix our health care system, but let's make sure we fix it right so we don't have to fix it again in 10 years.

How about taxes? Anybody like to pay taxes? Actually, I don't mind paying taxes -- within reason. I get a lot for my taxes; Highways, education, protection, services, parks and. most important -- FREEDOM. I'm even willing to pay more taxes if that's what it takes to keep America great.

But a note of caution here: If we overdo the tax thing, we eat our future. If you want jobs and innovation, there's a point where you break the system by taxing the very systems that produce jobs and innovation. It's hard to predict where that break point is for taxing businesses and citizens, but it would be nice to have some analytical basis for changing -- either reducing or increasing -- taxes.

But to what level do we raise or reduce taxes and who do we tax? Those are defining questions that need answered before changing our tax code.

We are about to change the future of this nation with very significant decisions about climate change, health care and those pesky taxes. And it's time we make those tough decisions. My guess is that most of us have become skeptical of loud arguments on both sides of the political landscape.

My hope is that somehow we will pause long enough to permit balanced, open and factual discussion about issues like these before we lock ourselves into positions that define the future of the American landscape.

That's it for me. This member of the American Party has to get back on my backhoe now and finish some honest work. I don't make any decisions on that backhoe without getting the relevant facts about the job first. What a concept!

A native of Mingo County, Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong is a retired Air Force general. He holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from West Virginia University. He served as president of Mississippi State University from 2006-08. He is founder of the Appalachian Leadership and Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the next generation of leaders in Appalachia.

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